Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 1)

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Hello Internet travelers!  Sit down and rest a spell, and let me do the traveling for you.  You just kick back and relax while I delve deep in the 1970s in search of the elusive character of the Bronze Age!  That’s what this feature is all about, and this post begins my coverage of another month of DC Comics.  We’ve got a really exciting slate of books in this batch, including two, count them, two, new titles by Jack Kirby that expand his ground-breaking Fourth World series.

If you’re new to this little journey, you can check out the first post to learn what it’s all about.

This month in history:

  • Bomb attack on the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
  • Winnie Mandela sentenced to 1 year in jail in South Africa
  • “City Command” kidnaps 4 US military men at Ankara, Turkey
  • Egypt refuses to renew the Suez cease fire
  • Joe Fraizer beats Muhammad Ali and retains the heavyweight title
  • Gun battle between official and provisional IRA leaves one dead
  • Hafeez al-Assad elected President of Syria
  • Several British soldiers killed by the IRA
  • South Vietnamese troops flee Laos
  • Chatrooms make their debut on ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet
  • Irish PM resigns in protest over limited British response in Ireland
  • Thousands march in Britain demanding interment for IRA members
  • USSR performs nuclear test at Eastern Kazakh/Semipalitinsk USSR
  • Bangladesh (East Pakistan) declares its independence
  • George Lucas makes his directorial debut with THX 1138, based on his student film
  • The Andromeda Strain released

It’s certainly a full month, with a great deal going on.  Conditions continue to deteriorate in Ireland.  I’m feeling repetitive typing that month after month, but it’s going to be a recurring theme for quite some time.  The Vietnam war also continues, and it will roll on for a few more years yet, but I imagine that the tide of public opinion has begun to turn by this point.  I was very surprised to see that chatrooms made their appearance this early.  I knew that ARPANET was in development in the 70s, but it’s mind-blowing that the forerunner to the Internet was that far along as early as 1971.  We also have the first appearance of a man who would come to define a significant portion of the 70s with his cinematographic vision, George Lucas.  At this point, he was just a promising young filmmaker with no real hints of what was to come.  I used to really admire Lucas as an artist, but last few decades cured me of that.  You still can’t help but marvel at what he achieved in the original Star Wars movies, but I suppose that’s quite a ways away.

At the top of the charts this month is an amazing song, one of Lady Grey’s all-time favorites, Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.”  It feels like it belongs to a slightly earlier day, but darn if it isn’t a great song, melancholy and beautiful.


Roll Call


(You can see everything published this month HERE)

  • Action Comics #398
  • Adventure Comics #404
  • Batman #230
  • Brave and Bold #94
  • Detective Comics #409
  • The Flash #204
  • Forever People #1
  • G.I. Combat #146
  • Green Lantern/Green Arrow #82
  • Justice League of America #88
  • New Gods #1
  • Superboy #172
  • Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136
  • Superman #235
  • World’s Finest #201

Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.


Action Comics #398


Action_Comics_398“The Pied-Piper of Steel”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

“Spawn of the Unknown”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff

We’ve got an unusually mediocre cover by Neal Adams and an equally uninspiring headline story within.  Though the actual plot isn’t exactly electrifying, there’s some fun reflections of the zeitgeist in Dofrman’s setup for this tale.

It’s all about the music, man!  Well, actually, it begins with a plunging globe, as the new owner of the Daily Planet, Galaxy Broadcasting, replaces the iconic globe with an antenna, because corporations have no souls.  The cable breaks, and the globe plunges towards the crowd below.  Fortunately, Superman is on hand, but unfortunately, apparently he’s also super stupid, as he rescues the two workmen on the landmark but leaves it to continue its fall.  He realizes his mistake and uses his ‘super aim’ (come on Dorfman) to harpoon the thing with a pole instead of catching it.

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After that daringly dim rescue, the Metropolis Wonder switches back to Clark Kent and meets with Morgan Edge.  The callous CEO declares that print is dead (thanks Egon!), and that he’s going to make Kent a roving TV reporter…so, basically repeating the setup we’ve already seen elsewhere.  It’s quite fascinating to see that the conversation about the future of news media and the survivability of print papers has been an issue since way back in the early 1970s.  As we seem to be living in the actual death of print publications here in the Internet Age several decades later, those predictions are rather entertaining.  Anyway, he gives Mr. Mild Mannered a ‘rolling newsroom,’ a fancy newsvan with it’s own transmitting equipment and sends him to cover a big music festival.

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In a reflection of outdoor music festivals of the era following in the footsteps of Woodstock, a former science professor named Cy Horkin has taken to organizing concerts across the country.  The band list is rather funny, feeling more like artists from the early 60s, including ‘The Ding-a-Lings’, ‘the Soda Pops’, ‘Porky and the Hamlets’, and ‘the Astronauts’, an entertaining line-up.  At the festival, Clark isn’t allowed to record the music because of licensing issues, but he records the concert itself.  Strangely, as ‘the Astronauts’ start playing a song about ‘digging that rock,’ the crowd goes wild and starts mindlessly digging into the hillside behind them, threatening to collapse the house above.

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Superman leaps into action, picking the entire house up, and almost certainly doing more damage than the kids would have in the process, but then the crowd snaps out of it, confused by their compulsion to dig.  Clark interviews Horkin, but he gets no real answers, and apparently he doesn’t bother to look into the matter any further.  Really?  How often has the Man of Steel seen mind control?  You’d think he might find this just a tad suspicious.

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At any rate, Morgan Edge is very pleased with the ratings for this story, so he sends Kent to cover the next concert.  At that venue, when a comedy act called the ‘Bucket Heads’ who, you guessed it, wear buckets on their heads, sing about drinking up sunshine, the audience starts to drink everything in sight.  This could easily have turned ugly, but Superman intervenes by opening up underground springs until the effects wear off.  There’s a decided Woodstock vibe in the art of this scene, which is interesting.  Following the show, Clark is again placated by a very unhelpful interview with Horkin, but we discover that the promoter is behind all of this chaos, as he’s invented an ‘Electronic Brain,’ which, for some reason, is in a humanoid-shaped head, and which psychically compels people to follow the directions of the song lyrics they hear.

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Meanwhile, the Man of Steel tries to analyze the music from the concerts, but when his tape bursts into flames, he just assumes his tape recorder must have malfunctioned.  Sure, that’s perfectly normal.  Instead, he takes a Kryptonian tape recorder (it’s hilarious that it’s also a tape recorder, not just a hi-tech recording device) with him to the next venue.

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At the final show at Horkin’s old college, there is a group called ‘Satan’s Angels’ playing.  Get it?  When they sing “Break it up!  Tear it down!  Wipe it out!” the crowd complies, and they begin wrecking the campus!  This is all part of Horkin’s plan.  He left the school in disgrace when he wasn’t chosen as president and designed his device to get revenge.  Superman shows up to thwart him, but strangely, the Man of Tomorrow begins to join in with the anarchy!  He smashes a building, but shortly he leads the crowd back towards the stage, and while they tear the venue apart, the hero nabs Horkin and smashes the brain.

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The Metropolis Marvel explains that he was immune to the mind control because of his, *sigh* ‘super brain’, but when he listened to the Kryptonian tape recorder, he was brainwashed like everyone else.  Because that makes sense.  While smashing the building, a falling beam knocked the headset off, and he came back to his senses in time to capture the villainous Horkin.  Notably, the crowd wants revenge and threatens to mob Horkin, but Superman insists on handing him over the proper authorities.  In jail, the perfidious professor rails as the authorities pipe rock music over the loud-speakers in an ironic little ending.

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This is a decent enough story, though the structure feels a bit Silver Age-ish.  The focus on violence and mob-mentalities at music festivals are an intriguing reflection of the zeitgeist, coming a little over a year and change after the disastrous Altamont Free Concert, which for many, marks the unofficial end of the 60s counter-cultural movement.  Infamously, the Hell’s Angels were involved in a violent riot that caused one death and revealed a brutal and ugly spirit at the event.  With this story we have another fantastical attempt to contextualize and grapple with current events, like last month’s brain-controlled students in Teen Titans.

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Probably the most interesting thing about this yarn is the idea that the music itself is not responsible for what the concert-goers are doing, which is a curious response to these events.  It seems as if Dorfman wants to emphasize to his readers that there can still be value in the art of the counter-culture, even if its ideals have been revealed as hollow.  That being said, I’m probably giving this tale more attention than its author did.  Whatever cultural commentary Dorfman employed, he definitely didn’t portray the Man of Steel in the best light.  The hero seems a bit dim throughout, and I really hate the whole ‘super brain’ concept.  One of the great weaknesses Superman has is the fact that he’s just as susceptible to mind-control as other mere mortals, though I know that wasn’t always the case in the Silver Age.  I suppose I’ll give this story with its goofy elements 2.5 Minutemen.

minute2.5


“Spawn of the Unknown”


action-398-21-01

This title sounds like the headline of an old Shadow story or the like, very ominous and foreboding!  The story to which it relates, on the other hand, isn’t quite so atmospheric.  It’s also a bit of cheat, as the Fortress of Solitude features in this tale only tangentially.  It begins with Superman’s arrival at a volcanic crater, presumably someplace in Africa.  A game keeper named Ituru tells the Man of Steel that he must not touch the ground because the area is infected with a plague that turns living creatures into plants, and he claims it can even affect the Kryptonian!  The game keeper fills the hero in, telling the story of a Prof. Bruno, a botanist who set up a lab in that crater and began doing super-sciencey experiments with the local flora.  He created all kinds of strange mutant plants, and after being warned that he was ‘tampering in God’s domain,’ his lab exploded, releasing strange spores that seem to have mutated the animal life in the area into plants.

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The Man of Tomorrow isn’t worried until Ituru leads him to a grisly sight nearby, where a twisted tree grows from the ground, a miserable mockery of Supergirl!  The plant-being can’t speak, but Superman swears to help her.  He gets an emergency call, leading him to Egypt to prevent a tomb robbery in the Valley of the Kings, where he decides to scare the thieves rather than capture them.  I’ve got to say, I think there may be a question of priorities here, Supes.

Nonetheless, the scene is fairly entertaining, even if a bit Scooby-Doo-silly.  The tomb-raiders (nope, not him) are hauling out their ill-gotten gains, when suddenly, a statue of Anubis, the god of the dead, speaks to them in tones of grim portent!  Superman is, of course, inside the statue, and he uses his x-ray vision to make them all see-through, because that’s how x-rays work.  Sure, Superman’s x-ray vision is pure comic book science, but this is inconsistent even for the comic portrayal of the ability!  Well, regardless of how absurd the gimmick is, the thieves find it pretty compelling, and they hightail it out of there.  The Man of Steel reasons that, if he had arrested them, there would just be more back tomorrow, but this way, they’ll spread the word and fear will do what the law couldn’t, which is actually relatively clever.

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Back at the crater, the Metropolis Marvel tries to uproot Supertree, but it begins to grow around him!  He rips its ‘arms’ off as he frees himself, and just as he’s lamenting how he’s crippled her for life, a hale and completely not plant-like Supergirl arrives!  She explains that the seeds scattered all over are actually just an experiment of the professors that grow to mimic nearby lifeforms as a type of camouflage.  One had grown to mimic her, and since he was there last, another has grown to mimic the Man of Steel himself!

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Superman is supremely relieved, and the super-pair transplant the entire crater to a remote world in case the plants should prove dangerous.  Apparently, their code against killing applies to “any kind of life”  Who knew they were Super-vegans?  I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard that before, and it seems both intensely stupid and obviously regularly broken.  How often does Superman heat-vision through a giant plant or smash an alien monster?  Anyway, the story ends with the super-pair admiring the hideous new plants that grace the Fortress of Solitude.

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This is an okay story, but that’s as much as you can say about it.  Swan’s art is great, as usual, and his inventive work with the plant-creatures and the x-ray skeletons are really the highlights of the yarn.  The central problem doesn’t really last long enough to have much impact, and the resolutions to both the minor and major complications are a bit on the silly side, but it’s still a reasonably enjoyable read.  I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, as it’s just so-so.

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Adventure Comics #404


Adventure_Comics_404“Super-girl?”
Writer: Mike Sekowsky
Penciler: Mike Sekowsky
Inker: Jack Abel
Editor: Mike Sekowsky

This comic picks directly up from the off-beat comic of two issues ago, and it certainly offers us another unusual story.  I’m very curious to see how long Sekowsky will continue this arc, especially given its complete departure from the usually sacred status quo.

This one begins as Supergirl awakens from her impromptu nap, courtesy of the thugs with the machine guns who ambushed her, and she discovers that she’s bleeding!  How could this be?  How could an invulnerable woman bleed?  Well, she realizes that her almost-beau, Derek, poisoned her somehow, but apparently he didn’t do too thorough of a job.  Her powers begin to come back, but they fade in and out.

adventure 404-02

In search of answers, she heads to the Fortress of Solitude and visits the Bottle City of Kandor in the hopes that their tiny but advanced minds can help her.  Despite a battery of super-science-y tests, the Kandorian braintrust is stumped.  Since they can’t restore the Maid of Might’s powers, they give her a hi-tech exoskeleton (for some reason called an ‘exoskeleton cyborg,’ despite the fact that it is neither robot nor living creature and therefore not a cyborg) that can grant her super strength, as well as rocket boots to let her fly.  These gadgets should let her continue adventuring until they can figure out how to restore her powers permanently.

adventure 404-04

Meanwhile, Starfire, the nefarious femme fatale from our first issue, is pursuing her plans for a female dominated planet.  Derek has arrived for his payoff, but when the villainous vamp suspects that her Lothario for hire might talk and thereby endanger her schemes, she has him killed!  On panel!  It’s a surprising move, and it establishes how ruthless Starfire is rather nicely.  It’s also surprising to see the villain actually flat-out kill someone in a comic of this era, but I imagine no-one weeps for Derek!

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Afterward, the would-be queen investigates her Amazonians in training, her female followers, and plots her first moves now that Supergirl is believed dead.  She and her all-girl band are going to a town near the Maid of Might’s college, Carvale, where they plan on robbing the place blind during its Mardi Gras festival.  Now, for many of you Yankees from the uncivilized reaches of our fair country, that might not mean much, but where I’m from, Mardi Gras is a massive celebration with parades and parties galore.  We get out of school, people take off work, and it’s quite something to see.

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Starfire and her gang blend in by wearing costumes and begin a criminal campaign, robbing party-goers and heisting banks.  Meanwhile, in nearby Stanhope, Linda Danvers reads about the crime wave and heads to town as Supergirl, staking out the last bank to be hit and confronting the thieves.  Her superpowers short out at just the wrong time, of course, to provide us with the requisite dramatic tension.  Fortunately, the Maid of Steel still has her exoskeleton, and she flips the getaway car and piles into the fleeing femmes.  Her luck runs out, though, as one of the larcenous ladies lands a lucky blow and knocks the powerless heroine out.

adventure 404-15

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The gang bring Supergirl to Starfire, who plans to kill her herself, but first she enjoys herself by beating on the helpless captive.  After smacking her around a bit, the psycho cyclops has her prisoner untied and then proceeds to prove her dominance with a further beating, knocking her out once more.  When the Maid of Might comes to, she discovers her powers have returned, and she immediately makes short work of the gang.  Yet, Starfire and her pet scientist escape, leaving the heroine without any answers about her condition.

adventure 404-21

This is a pretty decent story.  The loss of powers, however silly the mechanism, creates some reasonably nice tension, though the on-again-off-again powers are a pretty blatant deus ex machina.  Starfire is certainly appropriately villainous here, but she doesn’t get quite enough time to develop much of a personality other than ‘vicious.’  Perhaps the next issue will flesh her out some more.  Unfortunately, while the plot of the story is enjoyable, the art continues to be awful.  Sekowsky gives us some fun designs of the various Mardi Gras costumes, but his figures are awkward and stiff, his proportions are all over the place, his panels mostly lack backgrounds, and his perspective is almost always wonky.  I’m not sure which is worse, this issue or the last one.  Nonetheless, the comic is a fun enough read that it makes up for the art, to a degree.  All told, I’ll give it 3 Minutemen, but only barely.

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And that does it for our first few books of March 1971.  We’re off to a reasonably good start, and I can’t wait to see what else this month holds for us.  Please join me again soon for another addition of Into the Bronze Age, and until then, keep the heroic ideal alive!

3 comments on “Into the Bronze Age: March 1971 (Part 1)

  1. B Smith says:

    That Morgan Edge may have been more prescient than he knew – sure he gave Clark a mobile newsroom, but did he throw in a camera man, an sound man, any kind of onsite tech support at all? No, Clark was expected to do all that himself…..hmmmmm.

  2. […] tale picks up where the previous outing of the story left off, with Supergirl desperate to track down Starfire and her scientific flunky in […]

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